America Needs Farmers raises awareness through football
By Darrin Cline
The result of the game may not have been what the home fans were looking for, but the Oct. 20 game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions was about more than just the action on the gridiron.
The Big Ten matchup also played host to the Hawkeyes' traditional "America Needs Farmers" festivities. Started in 1985 by legendary football coach Hayden Fry, the ANF initiative was meant to show support and adulation for farmers during the farm crisis on the 1980s.
According to the official America Needs Farmers website, co-sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau and the University of Iowa, Fry developed a helmet sticker that debuted at the Hawkeyes' 1985 game against Ohio State. A small yellow sticker that read "ANF" above the standard tigerhawk logo became symbolic of the team's support for agriculture. The Hawkeyes would win the Big Ten that same season and go on to play in the Rose Bowl, propelling the newly minted helmet stickers into national notoriety.
Iowa's dedication to the farming community remained, and ANF was reignited by current coach Kirk Ferentz and the decision to again feature the helmet stickers.
According to Heather Lilienthal of Iowa Farm Bureau, they saw an opportunity to help spread the word about what U.S. farmers do, and signed on for a five-year partnership with the football program.
"Our farmers are constantly looking for opportunities to connect with those consumers; we have a lot of partnerships and relationships with Iowa State (University) and this was a great chance to get involved with the other side of the state and reach a new audience," Lilienthal said.
With the prominent role of agriculture in Iowa, and the bevy of Hawkeye players that come from rural ag communities, the football team has embraced ANF and continued on the tradition.
Current and former Hawkeye stars, including NFL players Dallas Clark and Robert Gallery, have shown support for the program and have been featured by ANF as they to spread the word on the goals of Iowa's farmers. Gallery was among former players that were on hand for autograph signings during the Oct. 20 game.
The primetime game also featured ANF flags, an ANF cheer and the induction of the first player into the "Wall of Honor." The Wall of Honor, according to the ANF website, programs.iowafarmbureau.com/anf, "salutes former University of Iowa football student-athletes who exemplify the tenacity, work ethic, and character of the Iowa farmer..."
The inaugural recipient of the award was Casey Wiegmann. Wiegmann, a 16-year NFL offensive lineman, played for Iowa from 1991-1995; the long-time Kansas City Chief retired in 2012 and now has plans to return to his northeast Iowa hometown.
According to Lilienthal, Wiegmann and former teammate Jared DeVries have begun farming land and look to continue their agricultural passion. Lilienthal identifies players like Wiegmann and DeVries as the type of role models they are proud to have representing ANF.
"They really believe in what farmers do and they are guys that people look up to, and if they have a good feeling about farmers, then we want other people to have that good feeling and look to our farmers for information," said Lilienthal.
The ANF initiative will continue to promote the work of Iowa's farm families. Supporters can find ANF or add the signature "ANF" black and yellow sticker to their website or social media page by visiting the ANF website, programs.iowafarmbureau.com/anf.